Back To CourseEducational Psychology: Homework Help Resource
9 chapters | 275 lessons
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Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.
We've all seen a classroom of students sitting and watching their teacher impart upon them the ancient wisdom of their elders (or teaching them state capitals; both are important). Did you ever wonder what was going on inside their heads? Just how does the information they are taking in become actual knowledge? Well, wonder no more, because today we're going to walk through the process of how we learn through cognition.
The first thing we need to do is define two key words: cognition and learning. Cognition is the process of acquiring and understanding knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Learning involves acquiring knowledge through experience, study, or being taught. If you think that these two concepts are awfully similar, you're right. Both are inexorably linked - learning requires cognition and cognition involves learning. Whenever you see or hear something new, you go through a series of cognitive processes, which are the processes that result in learning.
The first step in the cognitive learning process is attention. In order to begin learning, a student must be paying attention to what they are experiencing. As anyone who has been in a class full of children knows, attention isn't unlimited and can be quite fleeting. Educational psychologists have come to the conclusion that the average person can hold approximately two or three learned tasks in their attention at the same time. This means that if you are trying to dust and vacuum simultaneously you may be able to pull it off, but throw in eating a sandwich and odds are good you'll take a bite out of your duster and smear lunch meat on the walls.
We also know the average person can only attend to one complex task at a time. Trying to drive and do long division? Not going to happen. Talk on the phone while waltzing? Unlikely. In case you're wondering, this is also a compelling reason to not talk on the phone and drive - you just don't have enough attention to do each task completely.
Next, the information that you are paying attention to has to be put into memory in a process called storage. There are three levels of memory through which information must travel to be truly learned. Let's say that for the first time you hear that the capital of the state of Oregon is Salem. This information is now in your sensory register, which holds everything you are exposed to for just a second or two. By the end of this sentence, you may have already forgotten the capital of Oregon.
If you pay attention and reread the sentence, however, that information will move from the sensory register into short-term memory. This area of your memory will hold information anywhere from 20 seconds up to a minute. If you rehearse the information, such as repeating it to yourself, taking notes or studying it, it has the chance to move to your long-term memory. This area will hold information indefinitely and has an unlimited capacity. The challenge, as we shall see, can be in finding things in there.
Now that you've paid attention and moved the information into memory, it's important that your brain organize this information so it can be retrieved later. Encoding can work through a number of processes, such as developing verbal mnemonics or the delightfully named method of loci, but the ultimate goal is to assign a specific meaning to something you have learned. The mnemonic for remembering the planet's order comes to mind: 'My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.' Remember this and you can quickly recall the names and order of all the planets. Retrieval goes hand-in-hand with encoding by simply reversing the process of encoding. If you want to remember which planet is fourth from the sun, just run through your mnemonic and you have your answer. Since the fourth word is mother, the fourth planet is Mars!
No discussion of cognition and learning would be complete without at least a brief mention of two of the main theories behind cognition in learning. One of the oldest theories comes from psychologist Jean Piaget, who based much of his work on studying his own children as they developed. Piaget was a constructivist, which is to say that he believed all knowledge is built like you would build anything, piece by piece. The pieces Piaget used were referred to as schemata (the plural for schema), which represent anything one might know, from an object to a process. He theorized that children learn by encountering new information and either finding an existing schema into which they can incorporate the new information or constructing a new schema.
For example, a child may encounter a cat for the first time. If the child has a dog, they may refer to the cat as a dog, because in their mind, they have a schema of a dog and the cat is close enough. Four legs? Check. Tail? Check. Furry? Double check. Only when taught that there is a difference between the two can the child create a new schema for cats and differentiate between the two types of animal.
Robert Gagne was another pioneer of educational psychology who developed the information-processing model of learning. For simplicity's sake, we will only look at the part that relates directly to our discussion. Gagne developed a 3-part system of cognitive learning, with each part having subsidiary phases. The first part, preparation for learning, involves gaining the student's attention, providing them with expectations of what they are to learn, and encouraging recall of prior relevant information. Once the student is primed to learn, they move on to acquisition and performance, during which the student's attention is drawn to the appropriate stimulus (the fact that you are trying to teach them), methods for encoding, such as mnemonics, are imparted, students are quizzed for retrieval of information, and the information is reinforced with positive feedback. Finally, transfer of learning is achieved by providing a final cue to retrieve the information and helping the student to learn to generalize the information; in other words, apply the information to other areas of life.
There's been a lot of information thrown at you in this lesson, but let's go over the highlights. Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Learning involves acquiring knowledge through experience, study, and being taught. These two concepts are almost identical and cannot occur without each other.
The first step in cognitive learning is paying attention. Information cannot be learned if the student is distracted. Next, the information is put into memory in a process called storage. Information being stored goes through three memory stages: sensory register, which holds the information for only a few seconds, short-term memory, which holds the information for a few minutes, and, with practice, the information will move to long-term memory, which is limitless. Next, the information must be encoded in some manner to make the information meaningful so it can later be retrieved by reversing the encoding process. Finally, you just need to remember that Jean Piaget believed children learned by building schemata, which is the plural of schema, and Robert Gagne developed the information-processing model of learning.
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Back To CourseEducational Psychology: Homework Help Resource
9 chapters | 275 lessons
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